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A taste of Scandinavia in Manawatu

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Scandinavian flags flying in Norsewood. Photo / Jill Worrall
Scandinavian flags flying in Norsewood. Photo / Jill Worrall

You know how it is - sometimes domestic travel means driving as quickly as possible from point A to B, while frequently saying "sometime we must go there, stop here, visit this..."

It has always been that way when we've driven between Wellington and Napier. But not this time. This time we ambled, deviated and detoured and know we'll still have to go back another time.

It was Castlepoint that was the strongest enticement. A lighthouse, cliffs, a reef, a sweep of sand, tales of Kupe and Captain Cook - just replace the latter two with smugglers or jewel thieves and you have quintessential Enid Blyton territory. Or memories of long past summers scrambling around rock pools and eating soggy tomato sandwiches gritty with sand.

Waves were cruising languidly into the spit of sand that links Castlepoint and its lighthouse to the mainland when we walked past the tall post festooned with abandoned jandals... so that's where they all come to rest. I did wonder.

On the far side of the beach a path snakes up to the lighthouse with its red striped skirt.

Built in 1913 and 23 metres tall, this is a proper lighthouse - not just a set of flashy reflectors on stilts. It must have been a comforting sight for sailers, especially when Castlepoint was the Wairarapa's main port.

Below us shags hung their wings out to dry on rocks and the sea burrowed its way under the limestone, eating away just a little more on each surge. From the topmost viewing platform we could look across the lagoon towards Castle Rock, named by Captain Cook on one of his less poetic days. I wanted to splash in the lagoon, climb the rock but there was no time.

We'd already lingered for too long at Featherstone's emporium of board games - as a long-time hater of Monopoly I was dubious until I saw the titles - Alhambra, Carcassonne, Serenissima and the Silk Road. My husband pointed out that buying them wouldn't actually take me there...

We turned tourist and visited Carterton's Paua World. You get a free cuppa and the toilet seats... well, you need to visit to find out about them. We even bought paua. While it might be fashionable for Kiwis to be "over it", people overseas are entranced by it.

Carterton's entry signs said it was the Daffodil Capital but the only one we could see was painted on the wall of the public toilets - do they hide them in the back streets?

The Tui girls weren't gambolling in the fields outside their Mangatainoka brewery but we stopped anyway. The brewery museum, or Tuistory, is one of the few historical displays that will have you laughing out loud. I could have had Tui gumboots, a tea towel, and a set of bright orange Tui overalls...

We ate lunch at Mt Bruce national wildlife centre. Sat on the terrace while the takahe popped in and out of the tussock below us, tui warbled in the trees, a kereru did a lazy nose dive overhead and a kaka flew past with a flash of scarlet underwing.

And this time we didn't whiz past Norsewood - sliced in half by State Highway 2 it needs motorists to make a deliberate decision to turn off.

Norwegian, Swedish and Danish flags rippled in the breeze outside the information centre and warm muffins had just been taken from the oven at Café Norsewood. Scandinavian settlers arrived here in 1872.

They'd been promised a mild climate where subtropical fruit could grow and the Government of the time had not gone into detail about the density of the New Zealand bush and the isolation.

A woman settler died after getting lost in the bush not far from her home; essential supplies, including 100lb bags of flour, had to be dragged home from the nearest railhead.

Then in 1888 their first village was wiped out by fire and had to be rebuilt.

A lesser people would probably have packed up and moved out but Norsewood rose from the ashes again.

In 1966 the Government inflicted another blow on the village by pushing the highway through the centre of the town. But Norsewood hung on.

There's a genuine traditional Norwegian fishing boat on display, Norway's national day is celebrated each year, the local children learn Scandinavian folk dances at school and yes, there is a troll.

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